Friday, June 29, 2007

'Prison Break'

It's a story of childhood monsters coming back, haunting the present, an endless attempt to escape from oneself, from reality, failure to accept and reconcile with the past, an attempt at redemption, a story of love and betrayal.

I've spent several sleepless nights watching the "Prison Break" series. It was introduced to me by a dear friend months ago who lent me an incomplete DVD of the first season. I fell for it, its twists and turns, the action and the suspense, the thrill of the chase, the running, the escaping, including all the unbelievable scenes that can only happen in a movie.

After so many months, after the friend who introduced the series went missing (maybe to confront monsters or to get lost into oblivion), I finally saw the complete second season. I'm looking forward to watch the unfolding of the story.

What will happen at the Sona? What awaits Scofield? What 's in store for T-Bag (one the most interesting characters in the series, a criminal that everybody wants to hate, a victim of his past, an abused child, a monster that society - his family, neighbors, the system - helped create).

(By the way, what happens to the beloved friend who lent me the first season? I pray that my friend will survive the Sona, kill all the monsters, and come back with a wide smile and, maybe, bring me a complete copy of the next season. I will be waiting, with a warm embrace, even if it takes a while. The next season will still start this Fall. Hello...)

An incomplete bio of T-Bag follows from the series' official site:

CRIME: Six counts of Kidnapping, Rape and First Degree Murder, second degree murder, and aggravated assault, escape from a Federal Incarceration Facility
SENTENCE: Incarceration for the rest of his natural life
TIME LEFT ON SENTENCE: The rest of his natural life
ELIGIBLE FOR PAROLE IN: Inmate is not eligible for parole

Theodore Bagwell is one of the most dangerous predators at Fox River Penitentiary. Not surprisingly, he has barely known a life outside of confinement. After multiple citations for vandalism and cruelty to animals, a ten year old Bagwell was caught attempting to burn down the home of his fourth grade teacher and was sent to juvenile hall. It was there that Bagwell was first introduced to a white supremacist gang, known as the Alliance for Purity.

As Bagwell grew up, his crimes grew more serious, including assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder. For these crimes, Bagwell was sentenced to Alabama’s Donaldson maximum-security prison where he immediately assumed a leadership position in the Alliance for Purity.

Upon Bagwell’s release four years ago, he immediately returned to a life of crime, and embarked on a rape and murder spree across Alabama that included several teenage victims and landed him on America’s Most Wanted, the popular television series. Once captured, Bagwell’s attorney petitioned for Bagwell to be incarcerated out of state, for fear of re-establishing power in the Alliance for Purity. When Bagwell landed in Fox River ten months ago, its chapter of the Alliance was non-existent. Thanks to the charismatic “T-Bag,” it is now one of the most powerful gangs in the prison.

Once escaped from Fox River, it didn’t take long for T-Bag to start up old habits again. His first victim was Dr. Marvin Gudat, a veterinarian who had a small clinic in Illinois. T-Bag murdered Gudat after forcing him to provide impromptu medical care. His next victim was Jerry Curtin and his daughter Danielle. Curtin, a good Samaritan who gave T-Bag a ride from Nebraska to Utah, was brutally beaten in his hotel room after making sexual advances on his daughter.

From there T-Bag made it to Toole, Utah where he stole an archived map from the county clerk’s office and reunited with Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows to enter Jeanette Owens’ home in search of the D.B. Cooper money. He then made off with all of the cash.

Former C.O.’s Brad Bellick and Roy Geary apprehended T-Bag and tortured him in order to find the Westmoreland money. T-Bag was able to track down Geary and retrieve the cash. He then murdered Geary and framed Bellick.

T-Bag was last seen behind bars in Panama after Season 2.

Monday, June 25, 2007

NUJP: A greater issue is whether this government is truly committed to democracy and freedom

If anything, the brazen murder on Monday of Radyo ng Bayan reporter and operations supervisor Vicente Sumalpong in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi and the wounding of his colleague, Vema Antham, highlights once more the government's failure to act decisively to staunch the rampant bloodshed that has cast doubts on its ability and commitment to defend democracy and freedom.

Sumalpong was the fourth journalist murdered this year, the 53rd since this administration came to power in 2001 and the 90th since the supposed restoration of democracy in 1986. He is also the second member of the government-run network to be killed this year.

It is ironic that this latest assault on press freedom comes only 10 days after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asked media to "help" her build her legacy in the last three years of her term, going so far as to suggest how the press should spin reportage, commentary and even editorial slant to fit the image she wishes to be remembered by.

Doubly ironic because the deaths of our colleagues since 2001 have, indeed, helped Arroyo build a legacy - that of having the highest media death toll under any presidency, including the 14-year Marcos dictatorship, and more than the combined total of her three predecessors.

Again, we stress that we are not implying that the killings of journalists are part of any official policy.

But we also again reiterate our assertion that government inaction in stopping the killings and bringing those responsible - gunmen and masterminds both - to account makes it no less culpable than if it had actually pulled the trigger. For this inaction has bred the culture of impunity that has encouraged those who wish to silence press freedom in this country to carry out their attacks with increasing brazenness.

The issue here is not just the safety and lives of journalists. A greater issue is whether this government is truly committed to democracy and freedom.

Unless we see concrete action against journalists' killers and unless we hear an unequivocal order from the president to stop the deliberate targeting of the press, which we have long demanded from her, that commitment will ever be in doubt.

Joe Torres, NUJP chairman

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Si Rizal, noon at ngayon

"Birthday" ni Rizal, kaya naisip kong magsulat tungkol sa bayaning limot na yata ng marami.

Natutuwa ako kay Rizal dahil siya lang ang "sikat" na taong kilala ko at binasa't pinag-aralan ang mga sinulat kahit na noong bata pa ako.

Sa aming bayan, doon sa Dapitan, kung saan ang lahat na daan ay nakapangalan sa mga tauhan ng mga nobela ni Rizal o mga sinulat niya (Mi Ultimo Adios Street ang daan papuntang sementeryo, Mi Retiro Street ang daan papasok sa sementeryo, at Maria Clara Street naman ang daan kung saan nanirahan ang maraming matandang dalaga), ang mamang taga-Laguna ay naging idolo naming mga batang naging tao noong panahon ng martial law.

Ipinanganak at tinuli ako sa Rizal Memorial Hospital, nag-aral sa Rizal Memorial Institute, nakaranas ng unang halik sa loob ng simbahan sa tabi ng marker na nagsasabing doon si Rizal tumatayo kapag nagsisimba sa araw ng Linggo, nakaunang yakap sa iniirog sa loob ng replica ng clinic ni Rizal sa Rizal Shrine, at nakaunang halik sa labi ng sinta sa "foot trails" ng Rizal Park.

Matindi ang tama ni Rizal sa buhay naming mga taga-Dapitan. At kahit na nagtitinda lang ako noon ng kangkong at nag-sasakristan sa simbahan, pinangarap kong sa University of Santo Tomas mag-aral para masundan ang yapak ng bayani. Pinagtawanan lang ako noon ng tatay ko.

Nakapag-aral nga ako sa unibersidad sa Espanya, Manila, sa tulong ng mga misyonerong Claretiano. Nang makuha ko ang "second prize" ng annual literary contest sa UST, tuwang-tuwa ako. "Second prize" din lang si Rizal noong sumali siya. Nadaya raw kasi. Baka nga ako gano'n din.

Nang tanungin ako ng mga pari kung saan ko gustong mag-aral ng Teyolohiya matapos ang aking kursong Pilosopiya, sabi ko sa Ateneo. "Bakit?" tanong ng mga pari. "Kasi nag-aral si Rizal doon."

Noong bagong salta pa lang akong Maynila, Fort Santiago at Luneta agad ang gustong kong puntahan. Doon nakulong at pinatay si idol e. 'Di ko rin pinalampas ang pagkakataon noon na madalaw ang bahay ni Rizal sa Laguna. Gusto ko pa nga sanang hanapin ang tsinelas na itinapon niya sa ilog nang minsang lumuwas sila ng Kuya Paciano niya sa Maynila.

At kahit na namulat na ang aking isipan sa buhay ng ibang mga bayani tulad nila Bonifacio, Del Pilar, Mabini, at iba pa, bumabalik pa rin ang mga aral na nakuha ko sa mga sinulat ni Rizal. Habang maraming aktibista ang nagsasabing si Bonifacio ang dapat maging idolo ng mga nakikibaka, si Rizal pa rin ang kumikiliti sa isipan ko.

Naging bahagi si Rizal ng aking paglaki. Siguro kong tinuli ako sa Bonifacio Memorial Hospital o kaya'y kasing laki ng bolo ni Bonifacio ang ipinang-tuli sa akin, baka si Boni ang aking maging idolo. Kahit nga 'pag nagsindi ako ng lampara sa gitna ng gabi para dumumi (third year high school na kasi ako nang magka-kuryente sa bayan namin), si Rizal pa rin ang nakikita ko - sa posporo.

Noong nasa ibang bansa naman ako nakipagsapalaran, naiisip ko pa rin si Rizal. Sa Chicago nalaman ko na nag-stop over pala ang mama noong panahon niya, sa Vienna naman hinanap ko sa archives ng isang unibersidad ang isang textbook sa medisina kung saan nandoon ang pangalan ni Rizal na nagkaroon pala ng ka-penpal sa Austria noon.

At kahit na nasa Middle East ako at nakipaglaban sa lumbay, naisip ko pa rin si Rizal. Siguro, tulad ng maraming OFW, naisip din ng ating bayani ang kanyang pamilya at mga mahal sa buhay na naiwan sa Maynila at Binan.

Sa Europa, kung saan naranasan ko ang lamig at napasyalan ang magagandang hardin, naalaala ko ang mga tulang ginawa ni Rizal. At kapag nakakakita ako ng mala-manika at matatangkad na mga dalaga sa ibang bansa, naitatanong ko sa sarili paano kaya nang-tsiks ang ating bida, e punggok naman siya.

Isa sa mga paborito kung tula na memoryado ko ang English version mula noong bata pa ako ay ang "Awit Ng Manlalakbay." Kung babasahin nyo ng mabuti, mapapansin nyo na kahit lumipas na ang mahigit isang-daang taon, ganon pa rin ang kalagayan ng mga Pinoy na nangingibang-bansa, ganon pa rin tulad sa panahon ni Rizal.

Kagaya ng dahong nalanta, nalagas,
Sinisiklut-siklot ng hanging marahas;
Abang manlalakbay ay wala nang liyag,
Layuin, kalulwa't bayang matatawag.

Hinahabul-habol yaong kapalarang
Mailap at hindi masunggab-sunggaban;
Magandang pag-asa'y kung nanlalabo man,
Siya'y patuloy ring patungo kung saan!

Sa udyok ng hindi nakikitang lakas,
Silanga't Kanlura'y kanyang nililipad,
Mga minamahal ay napapangarap,
Gayon din ang araw ng pamamanatag.

Sa pusod ng isang disyertong mapanglaw,
Siya'y maaaring doon na mamatay,
Limot ng daigdig at sariling bayan,
Kamtan nawa niya ang kapayapaan!

Dami ng sa kanya ay nangaiinggit,
Ibong naglalakbay sa buong daigdig,
Hindi nila tanto ang laki ng hapis
Na sa kanyang puso ay lumiligalig.

Kung sa mga tanging minahal sa buhay
Siya'y magbalik pa pagdating ng araw,
Makikita niya'y mga guho lamang
At puntod ng kanyang mga kaibigan.

Abang manlalakbay! Huwag nang magbalik,
Sa sariling baya'y wala kang katalik;
Bayaang ang puso ng iba'y umawit,
Lumaboy kang muli sa buong daigdig.

Abang manlalakbay! Bakit babalik pa?
Ang luhang iniukol sa iyo'y tuyo na;
Abang manlalakbay! Limutin ang dusa,
Sa hapis ng tao, mundo'y nagtatawa.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Si Richard

Tila may lambong na madilim na ulap ang mukha ni Richard nang una kong makita sa loob ng eroplano sa Frankfurt airport. Tila wala siyang pakiaalam sa kanyang paligid, nakalagay sa tenga ang earphone ng kanyang ipod, malayo ang kanyang paningin, ni hindi ako kinibo nang tabihan ko siya.

“Pauwi ka?” basag ko sa katahimikan habang umupo ako sa kanyang tabi. Huli na nang naisip ko na malaking katangahan ang tanong ko. Siyempre, wala sana siya sa loob ng eroplano kung hindi siya pauwi sa Pilipinas.

Subalit tumango si Richard bago ibaling ang paningin sa labas ng bintana ng eroplano. Nanahimik na rin ako. Malamig ang hangin at gusto ko ring matulog. Subalit makalipas ang ilang minuto, tinanggal ni Richard ang earphone, at nakipag-usap sa akin.

“Ilang taon kang di umuwi, sir?” tanong niya.

“Ilang linggo lang akong nawala. May pinuntahan lang na miting,” sabi ko sa kanya.

“Noong November din lang ako huling nasa atin. May emergency lang kaya ako uuwi,” sabi ni Richard, sabay lagay muli ng earphone sa tenga.

Umusad na ang eroplano at nagsimulang sumahimpapawid.

“Ayokong sumakay nang eroplano. Nakakatakot,” sabi ng aking katabi.

“Richard. Richard pala ang pangalan ko,” sabay abot ng kamay. Malamig ang kanyang palad, kasing lamig ng mga palad ko.

“Kinakabahan ka rin?” tanong niya.

Tumango ako. Takot din akong sumakay ng eroplano, amin ko sa kanya. “Nai-imagine ko kasi kung ano ang feeling kung bumagsak ang eroplano.”

“Nakakatakot talaga,” sabi niya. “Siguro, biglaan lang at wala na tayong mararamdaman.”

“Sana nga, para 'di masakit,” sabi ko.

“May pamilya ka?” muling pagbasag ko sa katahimikan habang hinihintay ang flight attendant na namimigay ng tinapay.

“Meron. Kaya ako uuwi,” sagot niya.

Nanatili akong tahimik. Nanahimik na rin si Richard. Nang lumingon ako, nakita kong humihikbi siya.

“Nanganak ang misis ko noong May 21,” kwento niya.

“Congrats,” sabi ko.

'Di siya kumibo.

“Kaya ako uuwi. Ayoko na sana e. Wala naman akong magawa at ayaw ng kumpanya ko. Pero naiisip ko ang asawa ko. Iyak siya ng iyak. Matagal na rin naming planong mag-kaanak. Pang-apat na-attempt na namin ito. Ngayon lang nakabuo. Kaya nga ako nag-abroad, para sa bata. Para sa kinabukasan niya,” sabi ni Richard, sabay punas ng luha na dahan-dahang nangilid sa kanyang mga mata.

Ayaw sana siyang pauwiin ng kanyang kumpanya, pero nang makita raw na umiiyak siya sa telepono, ang kanyang mga kasamahan na ang nakiusap na pababain na siya sa barko. Sa Russia sana siya bababa, sa St. Petersburg, pero delikado raw doon, kaya sa Helsinki na lang siya hinatid. Sumakay siya ng eroplano papuntang Frankfurt at doon kami nagkita.

Tatlumpung-isang taong gulang lang si Richard, dalawamput-pitong taon naman ang kanyang asawa. Halos limang taon na silang mag-asawa at maraming beses na silang nangarap na magkaroon ng anak.

“Tatlong beses na siyang nakunan,” sabi ni Richard.

Hotel and Restaurant Management ang natapos ni Richard, nalimutan ko naman kung ano ang kurso ng kanyang asawa, pero meron siyang trabaho hanggang umalis si Richard at nagdesisyon sila na huminto na lang muna sa trabaho si misis dahil maselan ang kanyang pagbubuntis.

Marami nang napasukang trabaho si Richard. Nakapunta na nga siya sa Singapore para mamasukan sa isang hotel. Pero nang magbuntis ang asawa, kailangan nila ng mas malaking pera. Kailangang paghandaan ang panganganak.

Sa tulong ng isang tiyuhin, nakasakay si Richard noong Nobyembre sa isang cruise ship na bumibiyahe sa Caribbean.

“Marami akong napasyalan na lugar, kahit na apat na oras lang siguro sa bawat pagdaong ng barko. Para nga kaming mga baliw, takbo ng takbo, pa-picture ng pa-picture para masabing napuntahan namin ang isang sikat na siyudad,” kwento niya sa akin.

Mahirap ang trabaho, sabi niya. 'Di raw maiwasan na minsan merong diskriminasyon. May panahon naman na halos lumubog daw ang barko dahil sa lakas ng alon. Akala niya mamamatay na raw siya.

Subalit dahil sa pagsisikap, na-promote si Richard at naging attendant sa upper deck. Nakakaitim nga lang daw dahil laging naiinitan at dumidikit ang tubig-dagat sa balat.

Para maaliw ang sarili at malimutan ang hirap sa trabaho, ang malalakas na alon na minsan ay humahampas sa barko, at ang pag-iisa, laging iniisip ni Richard na nasa tabi ang asawa at ang 'di pa isinilang na anak.

Kapag nakababa sa daungan, tumatakbo siya sa pinakamalapit na public phone para tumawag sa Pilipinas. Mahal daw kasi ang cell phone at kailangan niyang magtipid.

“Lagi kong ini-imagine na sa pag-uwi ko sa Disyembre, sasalubungin ako ni misis at karga ang anak namin. Ano kaya ang amoy ng ulo niya? Sino kaya ang kahawig? Kasing pogi ko kaya, sir?” sabi niya, sabay ngiti.

Hindi maipinta ang kanyang kaligayahan nang habang nasa laot ay nakatanggap siya ng tawag noong Mayo 21 na nanganak na nga ang asawa. Malaki ang gastos pero tiniis ni Richard. Naitago naman daw niya lahat ng kanyang kinita. Para raw ayaw lumubog ng araw ng gabing 'yon.

Premature ang bata nang lumabas. Maselan ang kalagayan ng asawa at ng sanggol. Halos isang-daang libong piso ang kanilang nagasta sa panganganak. Naka-incubator pa ang bata ng halos dalawang linggo.

Makalipas ang ilang araw, isang linggo mahigit, naideklara na maayos na ang lahat. Inilabas sa incubator ang bata at pinainom ng gatas ng nars.

At nangyari ang trahedya. Nasobrahan daw sa pagpainom ng gatas ang bata, ayon sa natanggap na ulat ni Richard. Meron namang nagsabi na may sakit daw sa baga ang bata. Hindi malaman ng batang ama ang mararamdaman.

“Naisip kong nababaliw na yata ako. Paano nangyari ‘yon? Ni hindi ko man lang siya nakita,” naiipit sa dibdib ni Richard ang mga salita. Nadurog ang kanyang mga pangarap, dumilim ang langit, sabi niya. Hindi niya malaman ang gagawin.

“Anong gagawin ko, sir?”

Mahigit limang oras kaming nagpalitan ng mga karanasan ni Richard. Sinabayan ko ang pagbaha ng kanyang luha. Iba man ang dahilan ng sakit ng aking dibdib, pilit kong dinama ang kanyang naramdaman. May luha pang nangilid sa kanyang mga mata nang huli kong silipin ang kanyan mukha.

Ginising ako ni Richard nang nasa China na kami para mag-refuel ang eroplano. Sabay na lang daw ako sa kanya dahil sasalubungin siya ng kanyang asawa at pamilya sa pagdating sa Maynila.

Sige, sabi ko. Gusto kong makilala ang kanyang mga mahal sa buhay, sabi ko sa kanya.

Nang nasa airport na kami, umatras ako. Hindi na mapalagay si Richard at naduwag na rin akong maging saksi sa mga luha at pigil na paghiyaw ng kanyang mga mahal sa buhay.

Ni hindi kami nagkapalitan ng mga contact number. Sabi niya taga-Valenzuela sila pero nasa Tondo nakaburol ang sanggol.

Huli kong nakita si Richard na yakap ang isang babaeng umiiyak. Haplos-haplos ng kaibigan ko ang likod ng kanyang asawa, habang lumuluha sa paligid ang sa tingin ko ay mga kamag-anak na hawak-hawak ang laylayan ng jacket ni Richard at ang bitbit niyang bag.

Naglakad ako palabas sa airport, sa gitna ng madilim na gabi. Maulap ang langit at tila nagbabadya ang malakas na ulan.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Parke ng mga rebultong hubad

Lunes nang magsimula ang Global Inter-Media Dialogue dito sa Soria Moria. Buong araw nasa miting lang ako kung saan naatasan akong moderator sa isang parallel meeting.

Mahirap mag-facilitate ng isang international meeting na halos lahat gustong magsalita, nagdedebate at iba-iba pa ang lenggwahe.

Nakayanan naman at natuwa naman ang mga hindi kumulang 50 na kasapi sa aking parallel session, karamihan mga executives o may-ari ng iba’t-ibang media organizations sa buong mundo.

Hay buhay. Kain, meeting, kain, lang ang ginawa ko. Mabuti na lang napakaganda ng lugar at napaka-presko ng hangin.

Sa gabi, bumaba ako sa siyudad. Naglakad muli ako papunta sa train station at nagpunta sa parke ng mga hubad na rebulto.

Alas-nuwebe na ng gabi ako umalis sa hotel, at sa pagkakamangha ko sa aking mga nakita, nakalimutan ko ang oras, kaya hayon, wala ng tren o bus or anumang masakyan liban sa taxi. Halos US$20 din ang naibayad ko sa taxi dahil ala-una na ng madaling araw ako umalis sa parke. Hindi kasi lumulubog ang araw kaya akala ko hapon pa rin. Hehehe.

Sulit naman ang pag-ikot ko. Heto ang ilan sa mga larawan ng mga rebultong hubad.

Soria Moria

OSLO – Malamig dito pero hindi lumulubog ang araw dahil summer. Mahirap mamasyal dahil napakalayo ng aking tinitirhan, nasa tuktok ng bundok.

Soria Moria ang pangalan ng hotel kung saan dito daw napagkasunduan ang mga polisiya ng pagtatag ng pamahalaan ng Norway. Dito rin daw nag-usap noon sila Arafat at iba pang world leaders para sa kapayapaan sa Palestina.

The Soria Moria Hotel Oslo is located on the summit of Holmenkollen in beautiful woodland. The hotel has modern guest rooms with up-to-date furniture and decor, which cleverly mixes contemporary European style with typical Scandinavian touches. In many ways the most remarkable aspect of the rooms is the stunning view over the surrounding woodland.

Ito ang view mula sa aking kwarto, kung saan nanaginip ako ng prinsesa.

Isang alamat ang Soria Moria.

A poor couple had a son named Halvor who was good for nothing but to sit about groping in the ashes. One day, a skipper asked him if he would like to go to sea. He went, and a storm blew them far off course.

When Halvor got off the ship, he walked and found a castle. When he reached it, a princess warned him that a troll with three heads lived there and would eat him. Halvor refused to leave.

The princess fed him and asked him to try to wield a sword. He could not, and she advised him to drink from a flask; afterwards, he could wield it.

He killed the troll on its return. The princess told him of her two other sisters, also held captive by trolls, and Halvor rescued them as well, though one troll had six heads and the other nine.

They offered that any of them would marry him, and he chose the youngest princess, but he missed his parents and wanted to tell them what had happened.

The princesses gave him a ring to wish himself there and back but warned him not to name them.

His parents took a long time to recognize this grand lord as their son, but they were very pleased with him. The young women were abashed before him, because they used to mock him. He wished the princesses were there to show them how abashed they should be. They appeared.

The youngest princess persuaded Halvor to lie down and sleep, put a ring on his finger, took the wishing ring and wished them back to Soria Moria Castle.

He set out to find them, bought a horse, and found a cottage with an old couple where the woman had a nose long enough to stir the fire with. He asked if they knew the way to Soria Moria Castle, and they did not, nor did the Moon when the old woman asked it, but the old woman traded him a pair of boots that took twenty miles a step for his horse, and asked him to wait for the West Wind. It knew where Soria Moria Castle was, and that there was to be a wedding there.

Halvor set out with the West Wind to reach it.

There, Halvor put the ring the princess had given him into a cup and had it brought to the princess. She recognized it and married Halvor instead of the new bridegroom. (Wikipedia)

Ganda no? Sabi nga, lahat tayo naghahanap ng Soria Moria (happiness) pero kailangan muna nating patayin ang mga troll para marating ang ating ninanais at mapangasawa ang prinsesa. Hintay ka lang mahal na prinsesa, iinom lang ako mula sa magic flask at lagot ang mga troll na yan, masaker ito! Hehehe

Seeing Moscow

In Oslo

Thursday, June 07, 2007

In Oslo

11:50 p.m. June 3 (Sunday)
Soria Moria Hotel
Voksenkollveien, Oslo

I arrived in Oslo yesterday (Saturday) via Munich, Germany, at 5:30 in the afternoon local time. From Moscow I got off the plane in Munich, pass through the EU immigration check and transferred to a smaller plane to Oslo. Travel time to Munich from Moscow took almost three hours, from Munich to Oslo was over two hours. I was surprised that there was no immigration check anymore in Oslo. So that's what being part of the EU all about.

I had to change US$100 to the local currency (kroner) at an automated machine outside the airport terminal. The exchange rate was $1 to 5 kroner. I then look for a map and asked for direction from the information kiosk. I was worried, I don't know a thing about Oslo and there was nobody to meet me because it was a weekend. I asked where the taxi stand is. The man at the counter asked me where I was going. When I mentioned the name of the hotel, Slottsparken Thon Hotel, the man said it's in the center of the city and it's about 50 kilometers away from the airport. I asked if I could take a taxi, he said it's up to me because it's very expensive. He suggested that I would take the bus, adding that the last stop of the bus is just across my hotel.

I followed his advise and enjoyed the one-hour bus ride to the hotel. The bus driver pointed the hotel to me when I got down and I checked in. It was a traditional European hotel, with no soap, no toothbrush, etc, nothing at all in the toilet. Nada! Nothing. I picked up my camera, left my things and decided to discover the city. In front of my hotel was a park. I went through the park, under the trees and was surprised to come out before a huge building, with a statue of a man on horseback in the courtyard and a flag flying over the top of the building. I later found out from a map I obtained from the hotel reception that I was in front of the Royal Palace, the king's palace.

In front of the palace was an avenue that extends out into the city. Along the street were beautiful structures. I started walking, it was already past 9 p.m. but the sun was still up like the three o'clock sun back in Manila. I passed by the Oslo University, the National Theater, the parliament building, the national cathedral, which unfortunately closed for renovation until 2009, then I reached the central station. In the streets were people, young people, old people, drinking, eating, enjoying the sun. I later learned that it was the real first day of summer in Oslo because it rained the whole time in the past days. The weather was also pleasant at 18 degrees centigrade.

There was a music festival so free concerts were in almost all street corners. I also learned later that the whole thing was sponsored by the city government. I had dinner past 10 p.m. at Burger King then started walking back to my hotel while enjoying the street performances on the street - poetry reading, violen, opera, bands, the whole lot. I also enjoyed watching at the girls with their shorts and tank tops as they walk the streets or lie on the grass beside the street and at the park. It was getting cold when I reached the hotel, the temperature was most likely below 15 degrees. I just crawled under my comforter and I went to sleep. It was past 12 in the morning and there was still light.

I woke up early in the morning at eight o'clock, had a very European breakfast at the restaurant downstairs and walked to the park. I saw some Filipino women, maybe on their way to church. I just stroll around the Royal Palace and went back to my hotel to meet the Elisabeth of the Norwegian Foreign ministry who would bring me to the Soria Moria. We met at the lobby at 11:30 and drove me up to this place, Voksenkollveien, up on the hill, overlooking the city. It took us about half an hour to reach the place, supposedly a district where the rich and the very rich of Oslo live.

After checking in and resting, Elisabeth said she would be going back to the city to finish some preparations at the ministry. I asked to hitch a ride to the city. So I ended up walking around the other part of the city, the harbor. I went around the old fortress of Oslo. I decided not to go in although there was a festival for children because I saw that people were paying to enter the gates. I just strolled around and started looking for the famous garden of naked sculptures in various sexual positions. I failed to find it after Elisabeth made a call to inform me if I wanted to go back to the hotel already. We reached the hotel at 4 p.m. and had a meeting with one of the founders of Al Jazeera and participants from Afghanistan.

The head of the International PEN's section on the protection of writers arrived to fetch the Afghans, leaving me and the 70-year-old Christian Arab Al Jazeera executive. He asked if I have been to the city. I said yes and asked him if he wanted me to go with him there and be his guide. We walked through the woods for almost ten minutes to a train station and went to the city. We each had a glass of beer and I toured him around city. We went back past 9 p.m. and had a very tiring walk up the hill to the hotel. We decided to have dinner at the restaurant. It was a formal dinner. Imagine how hard I tried, and I believe I passed with flying colors, to hold my fork on my left hand and the knife on the right the whole time, European style.

Well, that's my day, it's 12:30 in the morning of Monday and I have to wake up early for tomorrow's meeting where I will be chairing one of the sessions. God, I'm just so tired.

Goodbye Moscow

2: 13 a.m. June 2 (Saturday)

I had my last night in Moscow.

The day was uneventful yesterday (Friday). The Congress approved a lot of resolutions. There was a lot to just remember. If you're interested you can visit the IFJ Web site ( later. I'm sure the proceedings will be posted.

There was the election of the executive council. Unfortunately, nobody from Asia came out. In the afternoon, the reserve advisers were elected and from the region Iran and Sri Lanka were elected. Taiwan and the Philippines were elected as reserve advisers at large.

There was a closing reception where cultural dances and sogs from different countries were presented. After the reception, the Indonesian consul fetched Heru for a tour of the city. They invited me to join and I willingly went with them.

The story of my last night in Moscow will be in my future blog. I have to pack my things to prepare my trip to Norway via Munich later today. It's another journey into the unknown.


12:35 p.m. June 2 (Saturday)
SVO Airport, Moscow

I tried to wake up early to catch the Lithuanians and go with them to the aiport, but my friends left early. A taxi from the hotel would cost US$72 (1,800 something rubles) as expensive as having a bottle of Miller beer, a hot bath, a complimentary backrub, a blow job and an hour of sex, all i none in a clandestine house in downtown Moscow.

I saw a delegate from Nepal checking out at the reception counter. I asked him if he has a ride to the airport. He said a rich Nepali businessman in Moscow is picking him up in 15 minutes and if I want he can offer me a ride. I immediately accepted. It was actually what I wanted.

It took less than an hour to the airport. I had my last look at Moscow, wondering if I would be able to come back to this country. The weather is already cold now. On Wednesday it was 31 degrees, too hot for them, but today its already below 20.

I lined up for check-in and discovered that I overshoot my allotted 20 kg of luggage. I exceeded 10 kg and had to pay 3,500 rubles or 100 euro just for the 5 kg. There goes my savings.

I already suspected that I would overshoot the allotted weight because of the books and reading materials I carried from the IFJ Congress. But sometimes people have just to learn from experience. I learned it the hard way, or the expensive way.

I had a bottle of Coke and a cheese sandwich for lunch inside the airport and it cost me $9. I bought a pack of cigarette for 30 rubles.

It would be boarding time soon and I'm on my way to Munich where I will take a plane to Oslo. I still have to look for a hotel this weekend because my hosts from the Norwegian Foreign ministry and the other guests are flying to Bergen for the weekend. I'm supposed to go with them and had already my airline e-ticket, unfortunately my flight will be arriving in Oslo an hour after the scheduled flight to Bergen.

Anyways, I've survived Moscow. I will survive Oslo. As I've said, one has to learn from the experiences and decisions we do in life, may it be bad or good. What is important is not to forget to right the wrong and continue with the journey as the same person as before, knowing fully well that there will be many more challenges that we will encounter along the way.

Friday, June 01, 2007

To the Old Arbat

9:45 p.m. May 31 (Thursday)

It's the end of another day. I just came back from a walk to the Old Arbat district where there's a street market. An Indian delegate discovered it. She said it's the place where one can buy souvenirs to bring home. I asked the hotel reception for a map and where to find it. It's supposed to be 10 minutes to 15 minutes by taxi from the hotel. I said maybe I could walk to the place. She warned me to be careful in crossing the streets, especially the highway. I was supposed to just walk along the Moscow River, upstream to downtown.

I invited my friend Heru from Indonesia if he was interested in an adventure. He said he was game. So we started our leisurely walk past 7 p.m. and found the place after crossing a highway, an underground pass and coming out in front of a very tall building with a hammer and sickle on top. It's a beautiful building but I don't what it's called. We went around it and found the place. It took us about 45 minutes.

The Old Arbat, whatever it means, is a street market, a pedestrian market, the Indian delegate said.

We found those dolls that people in the Philippines wanted me to buy. I bought 20 of the smallest one. It cost 60 rubbles each. That's more than $2 dollars each with the exchange rate at the hotel at $1 to 25 rubbles. (So guys, it's expensive, kaya huwag kayong manglait.) I also bought five shirts for 200 rubbles each ($4). Heru and I took photos and had dinner at a MacDonalds branch. It's the only place we could afford. I spent 120 rubbles for a double cheeseburger, a large Coke and a small french fries.

We went back our way via the riverbank and arrive at the hotel after an hour of leisurely walk. We agreed that it was worth all the sweat and the pain on our legs. Heru, however, failed to buy a watch that turns counter-clockwise. When I reviewed the photos I took I discovered that there was one being sold at one of the stalls. I then just soaked myself in the bathtub for a hot bath while smoking and reading the Moscow Times. I'll be leaving Russia for Norway on Saturday, so tomorrow will be my last day here. It was not a bad week after all. I arrived on Sunday, got drunk on Monday evening, watch dancing girls at a Russian village on Tuesday, had a lonesome adventure at the Kremlin on Wednesday, a long walk to a street market on Thursday, and hopefully visit a Russian nightclub on Friday just for the heck of it.

At the Congress today, we spent the whole morning on discussion about the elections, amendments to the rules of the elections, approval of resolutions, voting on the proposals, amendments and the works. The nominees for officers, executive committee and reserve advisers were give two minutes each to speak. Like politicians, the journalist-candidates took turn speaking about their achievements and making promises on the things that they would do if elected. I spoke for less than a minute.

I removed my coat, revealing my black t-shirt with the "Stop Killing Journalists" emblazoned on it, ran to the podium, with delegates from Asia tailing me with their cameras, introduced my name, and said: "I'm from the Philippines, supposedly where there is press freedom and where media is the freest in Southeast Asia, unless of course if Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia would object." It made some people in the audience chuckle and smile. "I just want to thank the IFJ for its support in our struggle for press freedom in the Philippines and all over Southeast Asia. I hope you will continue supporting us." My colleagues from the region applauded and the others followed. I hope I did it. I don't want to fail the people from the region who wanted us in Southeast Asia represented in the world body.

The elections for the officer were held in the afternoon. Elections of members of the executive committee and the reserve advisers will be done tomorrow. The Philippines have four votes, meaning I can vote four times. I can give a candidate four votes or give 64 candidates for the Execom one vote each. Of course I will vote wisely - for our candidates in the region and for candidates from the countries that really worked hard to help the Philippines and the IFJ.

So good luck to all of us tomorrow and may the fight for press freedom by the IFJ will continue.